Edward Krauel, a World War ll Navy veteran, of Temperance, Mich., is photographed at home on March 31. (Tom Hawley / AP)
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LAMBERTVILLE, MICH. — Above the television set in Ed Krauel's living room is a painting of a World War II battle scene. The image depicts an attack on two Navy P.T. boats somewhere in the seas near the Philippines. It shows a Japanese dive bomber flying low near two of the little boats, dropping explosives near them, causing water to splash violently.
Thirty-eight Japanese bombers attacked those two boats that day, Krauel told the Monroe News. He knows because he was there.
"We were supposed to have cover. We saw these planes coming and we thought they were our planes," Krauel, 96, of Lambertville said.
But after seeing an emblem of the Japanese flag on the side of one plane, Krauel said he quickly realized they were in trouble.
"I tapped the gunner on the shoulder and I said, 'Hey, Bill, those aren't our planes. If they get too close, you open up on them'."
Their boats were a little beat up that day, he said, but they didn't lose any men. They shot down at least four of the planes.
"I look at that picture and I think that I'm lucky," Krauel said. "People call us heroes, and I guess — looking back — I did do something. But when you're over there in the middle of it, I was just trying to save my butt."
It's a tale his children have heard many times by now, but Krauel never shared his war stories until his kids were older. Once his children were married and having kids of their own, the stories continued to be passed on.
Somewhere along the way, something stuck, and the Krauels have become a military family of sorts. Their service spans across many conflicts and countries and into different branches of the military.
Krauel served in the Navy in WWII from 1942 to 1946 and again at the beginning of the Korean War from 1948 to the early 1950s.
Two of his sons, Jim and Mike, served in the Army.
Now, Krauel's grandson, Ryan, has joined the Marines.
Krauel said watching his family bond over this commonality has brought him a lot of joy.
"I was worried because I knew how hard it would be for them, but I also knew the good about it," he said. "It makes me proud."
Krauel was living in Toledo when he received a draft letter from the Army. He reported for his physical evaluation, but after hearing it could be several months before he was called up, he decided to see what they Navy had to offer. His recruiters gave him 30 days to get his affairs in order before he shipped out for training. He was 23 at the time.
His experience as an Eagle Scout helped him in his service time, Krauel said.
He recalls that during training, he once nodded off or became distracted during a lesson about different knots. The commanding officer leading the lesson scolded Krauel for not paying attention and began demanding he try to complete different knots taught during the class.
"I tied every knot he asked me to before he had even finished saying the name," Krauel said. "Then, I got a little cocky, but I said to him, 'Hey, do you know this one?' and I tied this really fancy knot with all these loops and things. He left me alone after that."
After serving in the Pacific for several years aboard the P.T. boats, Krauel returned home for a short period of time. He was called back to help train others in California before the Korean War. He was discharged when his daughter was born.
Krauel has five children in all: Alice, Ruth, Greg, Mike and Jim. He and his wife, Betty, were married for 32 years before she died. They raised their family in a little Lambertville home where Krauel still lives today. All of their children graduated from Bedford High School.
Jim and Mike both went on to serve in the Army.
Mike served during the Vietnam War, although he has since died.
Jim enlisted when he was 22 in 1982. One day, while managing a local McDonald's, Jim said he decided he wanted to explore better opportunities. He had worked a number of odd jobs up until that point, and the Army felt like the next step. He visited a recruiting office that day during a break and immediately put in his two-week notice when he returned.
"I would always hear my dad and my brother tell stories," Jim, 53, said as to what influenced him to finally join up. "And I was always looking for a change and always trying to progress."
Jim, a 1979 graduate of Bedford, worked on tanks for the better part of 20 years while he was in the service.
The Army took him all over the United States. He was deployed as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Macedonia for eight months. The experience, he said, taught him a lot.
"I've learned to appreciate the little things," he said. "You see these people from different cultures and you realize you don't have it too bad (in the United States) compared to these people in third world countries."
While on his journey in uniform, Jim said, he lived on countless military bases and did countless jobs, including tanker, instructor and platoon sergeant. He even helped train Marine Corps tank drivers near the conclusion of his career. Each of his children was born on a different Army base and in different states — from California to Kentucky.
Right in the middle is Ryan, Jim's 20-year-old son who recently was commissioned into the Marine Corps.
Although he retired from military life in 2003, Jim took a civilian mechanics job with the Army. He is still working on tanks while living in Alabama.
"People think of the Army — any type of military — as just another type of career," Jim said. "But it's a lifestyle change. Everything changes."
He already has started to see these changes in Ryan, who is stationed in Japan.
"He wrote me a letter recently thanking his mother and me for everything we had done for him," Jim said. "He said he understood me a little better now, too. That's what the military does to you — you have no idea what to expect when you join."
Jim is sure the work he did training Marine Corps tank drivers when Ryan was young was what drove Ryan to the Marines. But Jim said he believes it was a combination of stories from him and Mr. Krauel that got Ryan interested in military life in the first place.
"I've become just like my father," Jim said. "I could sit and tell stories all day."